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Sermon for Sunday 20th November

Sermon for Sunday 20th November- Sunday next before Advent, Christ the King


Colossians 1 11-20

Luke 23. 33-43


May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit of life,

Amen


Who would be a King? Whatever you think about the way the royal family are portrayed in the current series of The Crown there's no hiding the truth that earthly kingship, or Queenship, is presented as one of the most punishing and unhappy occupations ever devised by human beings. Today we can settle down and binge on stories of monarchs' families misbehaving and do so with no fear for our own safety, but just supposing we were watching a version of The Crown set not in the 20th century, where our monarchs are constrained by centuries of tradition and convention, but in AD 62, when Paul is writing to the Colossians... we wouldn't think that Kings were quite such entertaining or harmless figures then.

'Kingship' to Paul, writing to the Colossians from his prison cell in Rome, meant the brutal expansion of the Roman empire under Augustus Caesar; earthly kings in Paul's time were terrifying and violent, able to take life on a whim and subjecting hundreds of thousands of people to their desire for power and land and wealth.


But our readings today bring home the absolute contrast between two very different forms of kingship; the violent and destructive force that is human kingship in the first century AD, and the kingship that is Christ's; a kingship which turns everything we associate with earthly power on its head. We see this described with immense clarity in Luke's Gospel; Luke's precise and terrible description of the violence of the crucifixion reminds us of how a king- like figure such as Pontius Pilate operated; using terror and death as a means of stifling dissent and securing power and influence. But at the very moment when earthly kingship is doing its worst, heavenly kingship offers salvation for the weakest and most needy; 'remember me when you come into your kingdom', cries the second criminal being crucified alongside Jesus. And Jesus promises him, 'truly today you will be with me in paradise'.


Today's readings offer us a whole new way of understanding kingship; together they help us glimpse something of what Christ's Kingdom means for us today. For the world represented by the soldiers mocking Jesus in Luke's Gospel, what could be more humiliating than to be a criminal hung to die on a cross? In a world where Kingship meant taking life and suppressing dissent, living in wealth and splendour and ordering armies to conquer nations and entire peoples, what sort of king allows himself to be shamed like this? But the second criminal realises that Jesus is showing the way to a different sort of future. When he calls on Jesus to 'Remember me when you come into your kingdom' I wonder what he thinks that kingdom will be like? It's clearly as far away as could possibly be imagined from the hellish terror and pain of Golgotha - I think he sees Christ's kingdom as a place of forgiveness, a place of peace, a place of love. Jesus offers him a place in a new world where the fear of violent death is replaced by forgiveness, acceptance, love and welcome. He doesn't tell the criminal that he'll be with him as a subject in this new Kingdom, he says he will there as an equal, 'you will be with me', not 'you will be under me, or 'you will be serving me'. Paul's Letter to the Colossians then offers us more glimpses of what Christ's Kingdom means. Remember Paul is trapped in his prison cell in Rome, living under the shadow of imperial violence and within memory of the terrible events described by Luke; when we think of what his experience of earthly kingship must have been like it makes his account of Christ's Heavenly kingdom even more wonderful.


Because what could be greater in terms of contrast than the King who is described in Luke's Gospel, broken and dying in shame on the cross with the King of infinite time and space described by Paul? Whereas earthly kingship renders you a powerless subject, vulnerable to violent forces of destruction, Christ's Kingship as described by Paul offers a oneness with Christ which is inclusive, creative, loving and empowering. 'In him', says Paul, 'all things hold together'.


I think Paul wants us to understand Christ's Kingship in the way Christ was sometimes pictured in Medieval wall paintings and manuscripts; not just as ruler and creator of the universe but as both transcending the world and at the same time present in it, enthroned in heaven but also encompassing all of us, offering us all a presence in a kingdom which is inclusive, everlasting, and endlessly loving. In this Kingdom Paul tells us we are each citizens rather than subjects, all of us one in the love which Christ has for all creation - all of us equal members of a kingdom which will never end.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.



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